Pressure rising for overworked pharmacists

Stressed pharmacist in dispensary

Pharmacists are experiencing a disturbing increase in their workloads which may impact on their ability to provide medicines and advice safely.

So says the union for employee pharmacists, which has written to the Pharmacy Board expressing concern about pharmacist workloads and seeking to explore measures the Board could take to ensure guidelines are observed by employers.

“The insights into pharmacists’ workloads that we are getting shows a disturbing trend in the sector,” says PPA’s Matt Harris.

“It’s a very real challenge that cannot be dismissed as a few isolated cases.”

Feedback since the Board was approached includes the following examples, Harris told the AJP:

  • “Every year, there seems to be more required of me, yet there is no extra support or increased remuneration.”
  • “It’s not just prescription numbers that add to workload stress. We are expected to provide an increasing number of services in the same amount of time with increase in pay.”
  • “Some pharmacies have pharmacists dispensing over 300 scripts a day by themselves.”

Earlier this month PPA wrote to the Pharmacy Board’s Bill Kelly saying that it believes addressing workplace pressures will assist one of the Pharmacy Board’s strategic aims to “contribute to a  sustainable pharmacy workforce strategy that meets the future needs of the Australian community”.

“We are concerned that an increasing number of pharmacists have reported to us of regularly being expected to dispense more than 200 prescriptions per day without adequate support from their employer,” it wrote.

“This appears to be a contravention of the Board’s dispensing guidelines.

“In some of these instances, employers are not responding to the concerns of employees, and ensuring that the Board’s guidelines are followed so that heavy workloads are managed appropriately.

“Many pharmacists report being left alone to cope with these issues without the adequate support mechanisms in place.

“The consequences of not properly monitoring workplace pressures can lead to situations that potentially jeopardise patient safety, and we need to ensure that these pressures are being taken seriously.”

“When we meet with the Board, we’ll be sharing the feedback we’ve received, and we want them to clarify just how it enforces its dispensing guidelines,” Harris told the AJP.

The concerns mirror pharmacists’ experience in the UK, where pharmacists responded to a Guardian exposé on Boots pressure to implement Medicine Use Reviews with an “unprecedented slew of mail” that the paper’s letters editor believed might be the biggest ever response to a single article. The responses told of not only pressure to do MURs, but of pharmacists being severely overworked and left alone to perform huge amount of work, compromising patient safety.

AJP readers responded to our recent poll, which asked if they were considering leaving the profession, and an article examining the response, with similar concerns.

The poll found 61% of pharmacists were considering leaving the profession, with another 21% answering, “Maybe”.

“Discount models, s**t pay, loads of work to the point that you will either kill someone with a mistake or get a heart attack, and most of the times I find my conditions are a lot worse than a dispensary tech, at least he just focuses on what he is doing, but I have to answer questions, answer the phone, deal with complaints, record pseudo, do orders… and dispense 150 scripts alone a day,” wrote reader Ahmed.

“Why work (if you can get any) when you get paid such a poor amount after all that training (which is underutilised as the number of scripts processed per day prohibits getting out and talking/counselling people)?” asked reader Leah Rosevear.

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